The Strokes, with the Eagles of Death Metal

Remember when the Strokes were the next big thing? On the strength of their hit single "Last Nite" from their Top 40 debut album, Is This It, the shaggy New York quintet, led by sleepy-eyed vocalist Julian Casablancas, went on to commandeer the cover of pretty much every music rag in the country for what seemed like a solid year. Every hipster with a hard drive would praise Is This It as of one of the best of 2001. The record was infectious and raw, not to mention the all-time best-selling disc to repeatedly draw lazy critical comparisons to the Velvet Underground and Television.

Yep, the Strokes could have been the next Nirvana, the kind of band that would sell out huge arenas even though they didn't, like, want to. But by the time they got around to releasing Room On Fire two years later, fans were already onto the next next big thing. The boys had also grown and became better musicians, with the production side of their music becoming almost antiseptically clean.

The creativity of Nikolai Fraiture's bass playing was always one of the Strokes' great strengths, but on "Juicebox" (the first single from the band's recently released third CD, First Impressions of Earth), he disappointingly cops Henry Mancini's ancient Peter Gunn theme to approximate that vintage cop-show vibe. The remainder of the new record is filled with clean, jangly pop tunes that place Casablancas's signature scratchy voice right up front, bemoaning lost girl after lost girl in song after song, with the chorus of "Vision of Division" deserving special note as perhaps the biggest Nirvana rip-off of the decade (so far).

Despite the loss of "next big thing" status, the Strokes haven't exactly tanked commercially, continuing to safely play the same game in the same midsize halls as when they debuted. But who knows how long they can keep that up? Maybe a future in smaller venues would be a good thing: After all, those same lazy critics also once dubbed them a garage band.

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Travis Ritter